We live in interesting TV times. DVD players are as common as toasters. Basic Blu-ray players offer high-def flicks at prices we can (almost) afford. And now, if you can't bother to go to the store or wait for a disc to arrive, you finally have some enticing download options.
The biggest news, of course, is the recent arrival of Roku's streaming Netflix Player, which is finally giving the company a service to match its name. The Netflix Player joins two other on-demand boxes: Vudu, which premiered last September, and Apple TV, which got upgraded to a movie-playing box in February. So, what's the best way to go?
Netflix: Weighing the Costs
Value: For cheapskate movie lovers, nothing comes close to Netflix. For about $150 upfront and $9 bucks a month, you can watch virtually anything ever filmed, anytime you want. Shell out $45 for a basic upscaling DVD player such as the Philips DVP3960 (a newer version of the model I used for testing), and watch any of 100,000 titles—movies and TV episodes—on discs delivered by mail ($9 for one disc at a time, $14 for two at a time, etc.). While you're waiting for new disc deliveries, use the $99 streaming box from Roku for an included, all-you-can-eat selection of 10,000 titles.
Watchability: In less-challenging scenes with good lighting, the differences between the Netflix Player and its competitors were negligible. But when it came to dimly lit shots, like a dark dinner scene from The Motorcycle Diaries, I felt like I was looking through a swarm of mosquitoes.
Still, even most differences were noticeable only when I stood an unhealthy three feet back from my loaner LG60—a slick 47-inch LCD TV. At about 12 feet, on the couch, they all looked great. For standard-definition films (i.e. most), Netflix's box wound up being the best choice due to price and sheer volume.
High-Def Smackdown: The Netflix Player drops out of the running here, since it's currently restricted to SD video. "Netflix will offer movies in HD in the future," was the most info I could get out of spokesman Steve Swasey. But the Netflix mail-order service is still in the game. It provides all 600 or so titles currently on Blu-ray, handily beating the 330 HD downloads from Apple and dwarfing the 122 from Vudu.
Ease of Use: The Netflix Player has some new-product glitches, but they are surprisingly few. Oxymoronic as it sounds, the box hesitates to pause. I usually had to click the play/pause button several times to freeze the action. And the synch between the Web site and net-connected service isn't always smooth. You go online to cue up videos to watch, and changes you make on the site should show up within seconds on the player. Sometimes they did. But once I had to wait a full half hour (and finally restart the box) before the list updated.
Otherwise it was a cinch to operate. The four-way directional buttons aren't the slickest, but they make moving though a video smooth enough. Netflix actually has a very clever interface for this. Although it's a streaming box with limited memory, it has enough to store thumbnails representing different parts of the video. When you scroll through these and click one, the box retrieves the part of the video you want in a few seconds. This is more efficient than Vudu's and Apple's, which can't even show you a preview of a scene until after they have loaded it (up to half an hour for parts near the end of a movie).
Next: Vudu and Apple join the brawl. And for comparison screenshots, launch our review gallery here.
I agree hands down Netflix Roku is what i have and what i love. Anything else would be unsatisfying and i dont need to worry about the hi def portion u use my PS3 for that :)
I'm sort of confused on how a standard definition only streaming box can dwarf a high definition box's movie offerings. Not only can the Vudu box deliver HD titles, it starts playing them within seconds of ordering (thanks to the peer-to-peer 'torrent'-style topography). With Netflix, you have to order and wait several days for delivery of HD content and use a player that is different from the Roku (which is the 'internet video box' actually being reviewed here) to view these titles. And because there is no monthly service charge with Vudu, you're not stuck paying for a service you may not be using but once or twice a month.
If you're all about working you're way down a list of movies, Netflix works. But if you're like me and you're never really sure what you or you're guests are going to be in the mood for come movie night, Vudu is the front runner.
"For about $150 upfront and $9 bucks a month, you can watch virtually anything ever filmed, anytime you want." -- I think you are mistaken; Neflix on-demand viewing options are actually a pretty small percentage of what they carry on DVD, which does not in any way represent everything ever filmed -- just what's on DVD.
I have had my Apple TV for over a year now and i never had one problem with it crashing. I don't know what this guy is talking about...
My advice...... if you own an ipod\iphone there is no choice.... Apple TV is the way to go. Sure you can watch movies and rent them, but the fact that your entier itunes account will be on your TV is the biggest selling point. I have a bunch of movies and music on my computer and now i have everything on my TV. Including all my pictures.
Plus you can control your apple TV from your computer... I can listen to music in my office, then tell my itunes to sync the same song\playlist in my living room. And while Apple TV is playing music in the living room speakers, the TV has a great slide show playing from my iphoto libray.
Plus it's an Apple, so the menu's are great and easy to use. And when they redesigned the software it was a free update via the web.
I do agree their movie collection could use some beef'in up, but it hasn't been a major, or even minor, problem for me.
Netflix all the way cheap but good overall.
I am kind of surprised that you didn't include the TiVo boxes in your comparison.
I have been downloading movies from Amazon unbox to my series two and series three TiVos for over a year now and I find the service to be very good. They don't have HD movies yet, but they eventually will.
In addition, with many of the movies you can choose to rent if you don't want to buy.
Yeah, I'm seconding thomasroche's comment that Netflix online selection isn't anything near "every movie ever." They have a lot of old movies, and a lot of full collections of TV shows (all the law and orders, both the Brit and American Office, etc.) and the flat rate is nice, but if you want to watch a new movie, you're going to have to wait. I'm still a big fan of the service, but you shouldn't mislead people into thinking that they can download everything or even a significant portion of their movie collection.
Vudu is now offering a $200 credit on all new activations through the holidays! As of 8/23/2008, Vudu boxes are NOW SHIPPING to Best Buy stores in select markets. For the "Adults" out there, Vudu boxes are the ONLY set top boxes to offer 1080p and ADULT CONTENT! (I can only assume you can get both at the same time, that might be nice) :)
Unlike Roku, Vudu set top boxes also have a 250GB harddrive for storing your movies or rentals!
It may be time to give Vudu another look. $295 for a box that includes a ($200) credit toward content makes the box less than $100. Thats dinner and movie for you and your date.
Netfix/Roku is only offering SD as an internet stream which can cause problems. I have also heard that the Apple TV can get hot and lock up is this true?
With the evolution of media servers and compact flash, it seems that CDs and DVDs will be going down the same road as the record player, 8 track and cassette. "CDs and DVDs with your jewel cases and scratches" RIP. I guess they will start to clutter up the shelves at the Good Will with all those VCRs. OUCH!
VUDU upgrades its software! Now offers Vudu Labs....
VUDU now adds free access to Flickr, Picasa, YouTube and ABC, CBS, MSNBC, Nickelodeon, Discovery, and ESPN online streams.
HI, I have played with the VUDU Media Box and have watched Picassa and Youtube on a 42" HD Display at a relatives home. We very impressed with the video quality and the user interface. The You Tube Videos looked even better on the HD display than on any computer. The HDMI cable was our only connection to the TV. Also another customer said the HDX 1080p Demo was the best quality he ever saw! I love the VUDU Media Box!
The $200 credit ends on Dec. 31st.
At $99 bucks definately a 'MUST HAVE' media source!
VUDU Offering 120 Channels of Free Media with New App Platform
Vudu has announced a plan of expansion for its formerly closed set top box. The company has initiated a platform for developing web applications while expanding free content on Vudu boxes immediately.
As of today, a new Vudu Labs area on standard Vudu boxes will offer access to Flickr, Picasa and YouTube. In addition, the Labs' new "On Demand" area opens free streaming from ABC, CBS, MSNBC, Nickelodeon, Discovery, and ESPN—among lots of other web-available media.
Vudu's Rich Internet Application platform will be opened to developers in Q1 of 2009. And it seems like a pretty good way for Vudu to stay competitive against the likes of Netflix, Blockbuster and AppleTV.
VUDU Brings the Web to TV with Breakthrough Internet Application Platform
Company Launches More than 120 Channels of Web Based Content and Applications, Announces Rich Internet Application Platform Open to All Developers in 2009
Santa Clara, CA - Dec. 16, 2008 - VUDU today took a major step forward in bringing the Web into the living room by launching the VUDU RIA (Rich Internet Application) platform, a standards-based platform that brings Web-hosted rich applications and services to consumer appliances
such as the popular VUDU Internet movie player. VUDU RIA combines the openness and ease of development of Web applications, lightweight hardware requirements compatible with today's consumer Internet appliances, and a lean-back user experience optimized for television.
To demonstrate the power and flexibility of VUDU RIA, VUDU has created an initial set of applications and services in a new area of the VUDU home page, called VUDU Labs. Available today to all VUDU owners, these applications include casual games, implementations of Flickr, Picasa and
the entire YouTube library, as well as a new "On Demand TV" area with more than 120 channels.
Today, VUDU customers can access a broad selection of free on-demand shows provided by major network television and on-line specialty sites spanning news, food, music, sports, and more. Programs include daily highlights from shows such as "Today", "The Rachel Maddow Show", "Anderson Cooper 360", "Fantasy Focus NFL", "MTV News", as well as full programs, some in HD, from Nova, National Geographic, PBS and others. VUDU plans to add more applications and services throughout 2009.
"VUDU RIA enables us to quickly open up huge libraries of web based content to TVs in living rooms around America," said Edward Lichty, Executive Vice President of Strategy and Content. "We are excited to
deliver both high quality TV shows as well as Web applications which enable our customers to share their photos and watch the tens of millions of YouTube videos on their HDTV's." VUDU RIA Brings Web Application Development to CE devices VUDU RIA allows developers to take advantage of the most advanced RIA techniques such as asynchronous Web queries, local scripting, and persistent client-side storage, along with unique TV-centered technologies such as VUDU's acclaimed user interface, one-wheel remote control navigation, and VUDU's TruFilm-powered video rendering for
maximum visual quality. VUDU RIA enables the development of responsive, rich applications
optimized for display and use on high definition televisions that bring the wealth of data and content of the Internet to the living room without needing to deploy new software on the consumer appliance, a
first in the consumer electronics world. VUDU RIA is targeted at today's low power set-top boxes and Internet appliances and delivers a lightning fast user experience on a 300 MHz embedded processor with 128MB of RAM. Applications developed on the VUDU RIA platform are as responsive as native applications but have the added advantage of being able to pull from the vast and growing reservoir of
Internet content and services. They can also be updated anytime without modifying any software in the consumer's appliance, creating a dynamic experience heretofore unavailable in the living room. VUDU RIA
will be opened up to third party developers in the first half of 2009.
"Our goal in creating VUDU RIA was to allow anyone with Web development skills to easily author Web-driven applications for the TV," said Prasanna Ganesan, VUDU's Chief Technical Officer. "We are very pleased with the results and look forward to opening up VUDU RIA to the developer community."